Is Visionary Leadership all its cracked up to be?

It is almost like a knee reflex for pastors, we must have and be able to constantly articulate a "vision" for our church and our ministry.  If we don't, something is wrong with us (or we're just ignorant, uneducated, or backwards).  I've always identified a bit with George Bush Sr. when he was campaigning for a second term as President and was questioned about what his vision for America was.  He said he wasn't sure he really understood "this vision thing."  He came off looking bad and without any plan for the future, but I, for one, empathized.  I can't help wondering if this "vision" thing is often more of a curse than a blessing, more like handcuffs than a road map.

The idea is that the pastor (or leader) is supposed to have this divine compass that knows precisely what direction the church should go in to fulfill its calling.  How we're supposed to have come by this ability is beyond me.  I echo the feeling of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who warned in Life Together that "God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.  The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself.  He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly...He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together.  When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure.  When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash.  So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself."

I speak from experience as the church I am now pastoring had languished for a number of years with no pastor before I showed up.  I teamed up with a guy with 20+ years of successful pastoral experience, and I had the same.  We had a vision of what the church should be.  We communicated that vision many different ways in different settings.  The church bought our vision and dove in.  Then it all tanked.  Nothing worked.  No one was being brought to Christ, disunity was ripe, confusion was rampant and despair was palpable.  I was tempted to put the blame on the stubborn people who were in the church, or the leaders I had inherited, or that God Himself was just through with this church, and finally, that I was just an unmitigated failure, thus fulfilling Bonhoeffer's words, "first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself."

I guess I'm not really against visionary leadership, only finding that vision within ourselves.  After all our failures, our little church went back to the basics: what is a church, and what are we here for?  About 5 years later we are averaging over 10% conversion rates in all ages, children, youth, and adult.  We are beginning cutting edge ministries in our little hamlet that reach out to our urban barrio.  The church has grown, unity has replaced disunity, and we are really enjoying ministry and fellowship.

We found our vision: Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.  It wasn't original with us, but we decided that piggy-backing on that vision was a pretty safe way to go.  When we did that, doors opened up that have never closed.  We dared to assume that as Jesus said, "the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few."  So we began seeking ways to reach the people we believed God was already leading to Himself.  Those cutting edge things we tried came about not from me being a "visionary" but from all of us adopting the heart and mission of Jesus.  Our mission statement is predictably simple: to help people find their way back to God.  It is also responsible for dozens of new lives in Christ, and a new passion for a once old dying church.

My advice to those struggling with finding their "vision?"  Chuck it.  Chuck the whole idea of it.  When you start doing what Jesus is doing, He will show you myriads of ways to reach people.  When you sit and try to pontificate a "vision" you will only get a bad case of balloonius headius.

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